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The USS McDermut And DESRON 54
This story is not about automobile racing. This story is about that Oct. night in 1944, the night of Oct.24-25 to be exact, when the five U.S. Navy Destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 54 steamed into the pages of American Naval history.
The night the five Destroyers of DESRON 54 steamed into Surigao Strait and met the remnants of the once proud Japanese Navy head-on and fired the opening salvo, forty-seven 21 inch torpedoes, in what history has recorded as the last "battle line" engagement of WWII, and very likely the last ever for Naval surface ships, the Battle of Surigao Strait.
For the furious southbound run into the Strait Rear Admiral Oldendorf, in command of Seventh Fleet fire support vessels, split DESRON 54 into two groups, The Eastern Group was the USS Remy (DD688), McGowan (DD698) and Melvin (DD680) The Western Group was USS McDermut (DD677) and Monssen (DD798).
With the Japanese fleet, four Destroyers, two Battleships and one Cruiser, coming through Suriago heading north, DESRON 54, with the McDermut, carrying my bunk, all my worldly possessions and me, headed south through the narrow Straits at 20 knots at 2:30 the morning of Oct.25, 1944
The night was blacker than the inside of your hat, with the exception of the phosphorus thrown up in the considerable wake the McDermut created at 20 knots --- and the star shells and searchlights from the Japanese as they desperately searched for the blips on their radar screens.
After 30 minutes, running at 20 knots, the Eastern Group fired 27 "fish" at the on rushing Japanese in less than two minutes and did a 180 degree turn in the very tight confines and, speaking bluntly, hauled ass north.
The Western Group, and me, continued on toward the Japanese for another very scary 10 minutes when finally our Skipper, Cap'n Jennings, gave the order we had all been praying for to FIRE all torpedoes. The McDermut and Monssen fired their 20 fish in less than a minute.
Now I want to tell you people something, you talk about a tight turn, at a speed going from 20 to 30 knots as fast as we could open the throttle valves the McDermut made one that early morning. With the cliffs of Leyte off the starboard side and the very unhappy Japanese fleet to port the McDermut, and me, and Monssen rolled, pitched, heeled and yawed all at once but man did we ever come about in a hurry and we headed north in a cloud of man made smoke.
The Eastern Group was credited with hitting one battleship, the Fuso, which turned out of the column and began to burn.
Of the Western Group the McDermut had the distinction of torpedoing three Japanese Destroyers, the Yamagumo blew up and sank, Michishio began her trip to the bottom and Asagumo's bow was blown off and she was dead in the water.
The Monssen scored a hit on the battleship Yamashiro which forced her to flood two magazines, but failed to stop her.
Needless to say the run out of Surigao Strait was more exciting than the trip in had been. I honestly believe we had made the Japanese mad. They tried their damnedest with every bit of firepower they could muster to illuminate us with star shells and search lights and every gun they could bring to bear to inflict even a little damage to DESRON 54. But I'll tell you people something, a scared Destroyer, at 30 knots, can suddenly become a very elusive target.
The five Destroyers of DESRON 54 "retired", that's an old NAVY term for ran to beat hell, safely.
Admiral Oldendorf's battle report contained the words, "brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed torpedo attack".
But it wasn't over yet for the McDermut, after daybreak the McDermut was back on her patrol station off Leyte when she was "jumped" by 12 Japanese "Val" dive bombers --- guess they were still mad about last night.
Anyhow the call once again was for flank speed and evasive action. In an unbelievable fast and furious 20 minutes our gunners downed three of the attackers and the rest decided to "retire". The McDermut escaped with damage from a near miss and some shrapnel damage and three crewmen slightly injured.
Oh yea, after the air attack we got another message from Commander Seventh Fleet. "Congratulations, for a minute didn't think you'd make it".
Our Executive Officer had the quote of the day as we were "retiring" from Suirago Strait, Lt.Cdr, Guerry said to the forward repair party, "Well guys, the Captain is probably going to get a Silver Star for this run and maybe the Torpedo Officer will get a Bronze Star, but we've got'em all beat, we've already got our brown stars."